Trading for Aces: Who got the best deal?

San Francisco at Texas

By Mike McCollum

There were four front-line pitchers traded this past deadline: Scott Kazmir to the Houston Astros, Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals, Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers, and David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. Each team is still in the playoff hunt and they all walked away feeling like they’re now better suited to make a run.

While each team has now improved, which of them had the best trade when considering value received vs. value lost? Essentially, who made the best deal? While each fan base may rank their new acquisition over the others (“Hamels sucks, Kazmir rules” – as some Astros fans are known to have said), they’re all rather similar when you start looking at their stats (thru August 2nd).

First is their earned run average. By far not the best measure to use for how well a pitcher has thrown (room for good or bad luck), but still a good indicator for how his season has gone. From best to worst it goes like this:

Kazmir, 2.10

Price, 2.53

Cueto, 2.62

Hamels, 3.64

Next is their FIP which is more accurate for measuring how that pitcher has performed independent of his team’s defense. In its simplest form it’s more of a true ERA.

Price, 3.00

Kazmir, 3.07

Cueto, 3.14

Hamels, 3.21

Last is their xFIP:

Hamels, 3.17

Price, 3.29

Cueto, 3.44

Kazmir, 3.70

David Price is at one or two in each of those stats so if you had to choose a leader it’d be him, but they all range close enough to each other for us to say it’s a good comparison when looking at the group together.

Next for review are their contracts. Below are their deals ranked from lowest annual average to highest, along with the length of the contract:
Cueto, $6.75 million/year thru 2015

Kazmir, $11 million/year thru 2015

Price, $19.75 million/year thru 2015

Hamels, $24 million/year thru 2018

There’s a couple of different ways to compare their contracts. Cueto is obviously the cheapest with Hamels being the most expensive. However, the Rangers have Hamels locked up for three more years after 2015 which favors them strongly.

So as far as what the teams are on the hook for the remainder of the contract, Cueto and Kazmir come in at the cheapest rate, which can be underrated sometimes. Depending on how the contract is structured, the team who added the big-name player can be on the hook for approximately 1/3 of his contract for that year. If a team is on a strict budget, $2.25 million for Johnny Cueto’s services looks a lot better than $6 million and change for David Price.

The last and possibly most important item for review now is what the teams gave up to attain their new pitcher. Who gave up the most and/or best prospects, who will eat the most contract value, etc.? This gets tricky when considering Hamels is signed on for another three years compared to the other three being free agents after this season.

First is Kazmir, who was the first of these four to be traded. The Astros gave up two single A prospects, pitcher Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham, ranked 19 and 22 in their top prospects list. Nottingham was the “prized” return for Oakland, being one of the best hitting catchers in all of minor league baseball. However, the fact neither of these players were close to being considered a “top prospect” bodes well for the Astros.

The next domino to fall was the Cincinnati Reds trading Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals. Cueto is also a rental player for this season but the Royals gave up quite a bit more for him. Brandon Finnegan was the focal point for Cincinnati. Remember the rookie pitcher drafted last year who was an instant impact and star coming out of the bullpen during last year’s World Series run. Yeah, that guy. While the Royals have kicked around the idea of making him a starter again, he’s a proven major league commodity who has performed successfully on the biggest stage. Packaged with Finnegan were two minor leaguers, also left-handed pitchers. John Lamb, who wasn’t ranked as a top Royals prospect, and Cody Reed who was the 26th ranked player in KC’s system. They’ve both rocketed to the top of Cincinnati’s weaker system. When comparing this deal to the Astros acquiring Scott Kazmir, don’t forget that the two months of Cueto is financially cheaper. However, giving up a proven major league pitcher who will be under team control for a long time hurts KC here.

The third pitcher traded was Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Texas Rangers. Of the four deals being discussed this was by far the outlier, due to the length of his contract. The Rangers didn’t give up the whole farm for Hamels, but they are now missing some of their prized ponies. Included in the package was: C Jorge Alfaro (#2 TEX Prospect), RHP Jake Thompson (#4), OF Nick Williams (#7), RHP Jerad Eickhoff (#21), and RHP Alec Asher (#24). That’s five of the Rangers’ top 25 prospects with three of them being in the top ten. There were two other major leaguers involved in the deal with the Rangers sending oft-injured LHP Matt Harrison and the Phillies including LHP Jake Diekman. The Phillies also threw in $9.5 million in cash to offset Hamels’s high salary, which allowed for a higher return of prospects.

The final trade for review is what the Blue Jays gave up for David Price. The prize of their haul was LHP Daniel Norris, Toronto’s #1 prospect despite being up and down from the majors. Along with him were RHP Matt Boyd (#11) and LHP Jairo Labourt (#19). Norris was promptly promoted to Detroit while Boyd and Labourt will report to their respective minor league teams. Three of your top 20, including your number one prospect, is a steep price to pay for two months of David Price. Add in the fact they’ll be assuming roughly $6 million of his remaining contract.

So to make things easier here is a quick summary of each trade:
Astros: give up #19 and #22 prospects for two months of Kazmir, are on hook for approximately $3.7 million

Royals: give up ex-highly rated prospect/current bullpen arm along with #26 prospect and un-ranked prospect for two months of Cueto, are on hook for $2.25 million

Rangers: give up #2, 4, 7, 21 and 24 prospects with major league pitcher for 3+ years of Hamels and other major league pitcher, are on hook for approx. $75 million

Blue Jays: give up #1, 11, and 19 prospects for two months of David Price, are on hook for just over $6 million

Knowing all of these facts makes it somewhat easier to judge each trade on the same playing field. When taking into account what exactly was given up and received, I’d have to say the Astros and Rangers “won” their deals more so than KC and Toronto. The Astros for not giving away any of their prized prospects, and even though the Rangers gave up the most they also received the most, being Cole Hamels through 2018.

Now excluded from this, and impossible to know without being in the room when these trades are made, are each teams own opinion of these players. For example, Houston may not have thought highly at all of catching prospect Jacob Nottingham, but Oakland may have seem him as the best catcher in all of minor league baseball. That’s an extreme, but an example of what could have potentially been the case with some of these players.  

Also intentionally left out is the state of each team and where they stand. All four teams are in contention, some more so than others, but you can make a case that Toronto is in “go for it” mode more so than Houston. Each team’s position, or even how close they feel they are from being a serious contender, will affect what they are willing to part with. So while we can say Toronto gave up more for David Price, it still might have been the right decision for them. The point of this was to find who got the most for what they gave up.

Saying all of that, with the information I have on hand and removing the urgency level of each team, the Astros and Rangers are who I feel got the better deal and won their trades more so than the others.

Mike McCollum is a Featured Writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on Twitter @mikeyballTX, or join in the conversation @CTBPod, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.

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